Pokémon Go – what’s all the fuss?
By Will Goodbody, Science & Technology Correspondent
If you haven’t already, you should expect to hear a good deal about Pokémon Go over the coming days and weeks.
It hasn’t even officially arrived here in Ireland yet, but already it’s getting a phenomenal reaction in the places where it has been launched.
That will undoubtedly lead to it also becoming a huge hit when it arrives on Irish shores too.
So what is Pokémon Go?
Made by the Japanese company Nintendo, Pokémon Go is a free game which can be downloaded as an app on Android and iOS devices.
It uses Augmented Reality (AR) technology – essentially superimposing computer generated characters on the real world.
It was launched in the US five days ago, as well as in Australia and New Zealand, and is due for release in Japan and in Europe within days.
Yes parents, expect it to enter your lives at any moment.
What the hell is a Pok-é-mon?
You’ve never heard of a Pokémon before? Where have you been for the last two decades?!
Pokémon (Pocket Monsters) are fictional irritating (or cute depending on your perspective) little monsters that humans can catch and train to fight other Pokémon (or Pokémi if you prefer).
They originally appeared in video games for the Game Boy in the mid-1990s, and quickly became a massive hit.
Now Nintendo and a company called Niantic, which was spun out of Google last year, have reinvented the game – with a twist of AR.
And what’s all the fuss about then?
That’s a great question – but fuss there is.
Web analytics firm, SimilarWeb, estimates that within two days of its launch in the US, the game was already running on 5% of Android based mobile phones – more than dating app Tinder – with almost the same number of daily active users as Twitter.
Players were using it for 43 minutes a day on average – that’s more than users spend on photo sharing app Instagram and messaging app, WhatsApp.
Those are pretty phenomenal metrics, so either it’s very good, extremely addictive or the marketing has been astonishingly effective.
It’s also pretty much single-handedly propelled Nintendo’s shares up by a quarter in value to their highest level since November, which is slightly odd given that it’s free.
Although there are optional in-app purchases that players can make, which will generate a revenue stream.
What do you have to do in the game?
The game uses the GPS in your handset and clock to establish where and when you are in the game.
Pokémon then appear around you “virtually”.
In other words, as you look at the screen, using a combination of AR technology and the camera on your phone, the little critters seem to be appearing around you.
You then have to catch them using a Pokéball, which you throw at them by swiping on the screen in their direction.
There are 151 to collect, so far, and a map to guide you.
The game is also littered with so-called PokéStops – places of interest in the real world where the Pokémon congregate.
So loads of kids are wandering around trying to catch these things?
Yes, they are.
But it gets worse – adults are too – particularly adults in their 30s who can remember when Pokémon were huge the first time round.
Social media is alive with pictures and videos of Pokémon Go players randomly wandering around public places staring at their screens like zombies, as they hunt their prey.
It all seems harmless enough, except the unending need to explore this quasi-virtual world is leading people into awkward or even dangerous situations in the real world.
Some reports suggest armed robbers in Missouri used the game to lure players to secluded locations where they could rob them.
Another report said a player in Wyoming was led to a dead body in a river by the game.
There have also been reports that people have ended up in hospital after injuring themselves in the search.
Police have had to issue warnings to people not to play it while driving, while a man even captured a Pokémon in the hospital where his wife was giving birth.
It also raises privacy questions, because Nintendo is capturing location, camera and other data gathered by the game.
That all sounds a bit grim – is there anything positive about it?
Clearly those who are playing it think it is pretty brilliant.
It does encourage physical activity and exploration, which is good.
And it does promote a level of social interaction, albeit with your nose stuck in your phone.
Either way, it seems like it is going to be a monster hit for Nintendo – although the question is, how long will the hype last?
Comments welcome via Twitter to @willgoodbody